First Steps in a Burqa

by Deeba Bint Thomas


The first time I saw a burqa was in 1985, I was watching a programme about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and my first feeling was of revulsion and pity for the person wearing it, but this was also tempered by a small feeling to know what it would be like to wear one, this feeling grew over time slowly at the back of my mind until the year 2000.

The Year 2000 the Year of the Burqa

This was the year when I finally succumbed to the urge to veil, I decided to live as closely to Islamic principles as I could and after consulting all the opinions and reading the Quran I decided to cover myself.

I started out with abayas, half niqabs and over time full niqabs. People seeing blue eyes from under a half niqab and unscreened full niqab drew unwanted attention so I switch toe full niqab with eye screens from there it was a logical step to try a burqa.

It took time to find a place selling them but once it was ordered I awaited it s arrival, the day came and the parcel arrived. There it was my first burqa; I picked green because I have always liked the colour.

I did not put it on immedialty but just laid it on the ground and looked at it, the mesh face cover peering back at me and I thought is this an acceptance of oppression or liberation?

After a while I picked up the burqa and slowly pulled it over me, the world narrowed, I was enveloped in material and darkness and when the I first looked out through the mesh I felt I was on the inside and the world was on the outside, all they could see was the burqa and all I could see was the narrow view allowed by the mesh no peripheral vision only straight ahead to ensure I say on the right track. I felt fulfilled and an inner peace descended on me.

After a while I took my first walk around my home it took a little while to adjust to having my new outer shell enveloping and encumbering me and learning to take smaller steps so as to avoid unnecessary entanglements. That afternoon I went outside, ensuring I had a hijab, half niqab jiljab and abaya on under the burqa, making free movement even harder.

Being outside in a burqa was an even more novel experience than when I had put it on inside. My world view was narrowed down to the tiny and fuzzy view the face eye mesh allowed it is like having a grill over each eye which is slightly tinted and this took a while to adapt to. I felt in the world but apart and separate from it, me on the inside while it was on the out.

And it was warm in there very warm. And I did get looked at People in North London are used to seeing veiled women but rarely in an afghan burqa.

But now people can no longer judge me on my physical looks and have to find out who the real person within is.

Thoughts on the burqa

Burqas can be a tool for liberation and oppression; they liberate if the person wearing it wants to and aims for society at large to accept them for who they are and not what their physical form suggests they are.

They are oppressive if imposed on the unwilling and certainly a tool for control, when fully covered I do not speak unless asked to which is different to when I am uncovered so in that sense for me full covering with a burqa helps me control myself. But if ordered to wear one then it is instrument of imposed control.

For me the burqa is a sign of freedom to be who I am and not what society thinks I should be and what I should look like and it has been my decision to wear one no one forced it on me unless of course Allah has been guiding me to it.....................

Living day to day as a Niqabi

Living in a mainly non Muslim country a niqabi is quite a novelty in most places.

Fortunately where I live they are not so you do not get stared as much.

The typical niqabi outfit well, long shapeless dress as decreed by the Quran so my features are not visible, then a hijab or scarf to cover my hair, and sometimes a khimar, that is the obligations of the Quran met as I understand them, as far as I can tell the consensus among scholars concerning Niqab is, it is not fard, meaning it is not obligatory, but it is highly recommended. So I have lived by that recommendation. For me it is fard.

I wear a half niqab in the house by choice there is no obligation to do so, it is just me.

When I go outside which I try to do as little as possible, I wear an abaya, half niqab, a full niqab over that with eye screen and if not that a burqa, with an abaya, hijab and half niqab under it.

Going shopping for groceries is chore but once you have done it fully covered a few times you get used to it and looking closely at things because either the eye screen or the burqa mesh makes thing fuzzy to see. And the checkout staff always looked shocked when they hear an obviously British voce coming out from under the veil.

People react in differing ways, they either just get on with the fact they cannot see your face or get somewhat abusive, but that is their problem not mine.

Life in Purdah

Other than work and other necessary forays outside I stay in as much as I can and only answer the phone if I identify the number, unless it is urgent I will not answer the door if I am not expecting anyone. Visits from utility company engineers present problems as a lot of them expect to see a face but thankfully they are rare. My time is spent in study or chatting with friends of a similar persuasion to mine on the net and sometimes personal visits . A life of covered contemplation and sharing of ideas.

One extra bit Deeba has allowed me (Dave) to add from our e-mail discussions which concerned Laura (in the Countess stories) and her problem with being forced to veil in the current and upcoming story.

"With me it's a lot simpler - put me in a niqab and I am quiet unless told to be otherwise. With that pink outfit I have spent a whole weekend like that. It has a three layer eyescreen, all in pink, so all I could see was a pink haze and it was lovely relaxing."

I have to say that with three layers covering my face I'd be trying to rip them off after a couple of minutes tops. To me this shows the levels of dedication a Muslimah can achieve from her faith.